The chance of cutting obesity? A big fat zero
The number of failed government healthy-eating initiatives is expanding in step with the national waistline
They're not talking about me, are they, in that fatty campaign thingy, the one done by the Wallace & Gromit people? I'm not obese. This new government weight campaign, the one with the Stone Age people modernising and growing flabby, is for the fatties, isn't it, and we all know who they are. It's not going to work either, is it? Because the very people the campaign is aimed at will ignore it, won't they?
Well, yes, probably. Because the people it is aimed at really is you and me. Public-health campaigns such as Change4Life, launched last week, have the greatest effect if a large number of low-risk people change their behaviour; far greater than if the smaller number of high-risk people do. So, yes, it is you and me they are talking to.
That brings its own problems: while the benefit to society as a whole if lots of low-risk people eat slightly better is large in terms of savings for the NHS in future, the benefit to the individual is small. Which is why nearly all public health campaigns fail; and why I suspect that this one, all £75 million of it, will as well.
A man with the marvellous title of Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, David Spiegelhalter, of Cambridge University, last year analysed for the Royal Statistical Society the effects of a campaign to reduce alcohol consumption.
He showed that a 20-year-old man drinking a “hazardous” four units a day who reduced his intake to the recommended safe limit of one per day, will gain 73 extra days of life, or 20 seconds for each pint not drunk - which may seem a poor return for forgoing the pleasure.
While ministers and public health officials give advice based on what is good for society, Professor Spiegelhalter concluded, “individuals receiving that advice may, equally reasonably, choose to ignore it”.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/commen ... 461512.ece